Summary: Once upon a time a little child from Gallifrey received a little gift. Only with time does he discover just how important that gift is.
Spoilers: Season 4 spoilers (or rather, that specific spoiler) ahead.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: This is a rarity, two fics in a week (does not happen often, let me tell you!). This ficlet is a response to irishlullaby's January Picture Prompts, involving the picture below. Between that and the third macro on this page (be warned, that S4 spoiler's there again), I was doomed. Just couldn't resist it apparently. Many thanks to Paige for her prelim reads of the piece. Thanks for reading!
Once upon a time, long before the travels throughout space and time, long before saving the universe, long before he was even called the Doctor, the Doctor was a little child. Even a super-intelligent being from Gallifrey was once wide-eyed and innocent.
His father takes him on his first trip to Earth. Father claims he has to retrieve something of vital importance from Ken Bishop and his twelve nice men (however the child suspects that they are there because Mother is from there. But shhh, that’s a secret, no one’s supposed to know that). As his father haggles with a man in the open air marketplace, the child notices a woman smiling at him. The woman stands out, her trousers and plasticky blue jacket an anachronism in this marketplace filled with wooden, horse drawn stalls and women wearing street-sweeping dresses made of lace and satin frills.
He knows his eyes are good, but before he can even blink the woman’s moved over to him and crouches down in front of him. “I have something for you,” she whispers. “Look.” She opens her palm and the child gasps in wonder. It’s filled with stars in every sort of color, from orange to octarine, and they twinkle and glow in the gloomy day. The stars clink against the rings that she’s wearing, and he realizes that they are tiny little stones so precisely cut and shaped.
“Those are for me?” he whispers back, reaching out a small hand to run through the stars, feeling them cool against his skin as he creates rainbows in her palm.
“Yep,” she says, her smile wide as her honey coloured hair swirls in the wind. “Someone’s going to need them someday, so you’ll have to keep them safe. D’you think you can do that for me?”
All he can do is nod, at which point she reaches for the pocket of his trousers and pours them in there. “There you go. Remember them.” She stands up then and begins to walk away, moving into the crowd and blending surprisingly well given her odd clothing.
“Thanks!” he calls after her, smiling when she turns her head to give him another grin. He keeps his sharp eyes on her as she grabs the hand of a tall man dressed in a well-cut suit standing by one of the stalls, and follows them as they walk off, turning a corner and moving out of his sight. The child shrugs and runs off to where his father is still arguing, one hand in his pocket protecting the precious stars.
The stars remain behind on Gallifrey when the Doctor runs away from home for the first time, forgotten in the panic and the exhilaration of starting an adventure. He finds them again when he returns in his eighth incarnation to prepare for war, a war that could be the end of all things. The Doctor pours them out of the little pouch he stored them in and watches them shine against his skin. He can’t remember the face of the woman who gave them to him (he can barely remember that it was a woman who had given the stars to him, let alone what she looked like. Suppose that’s what happens when one gets a bit older, he muses), but they are a nifty little treasure, aren’t they? He pockets the pouch, making sure that this time they make it back to the TARDIS.
Not long after that Gallifrey is gone, little more than a memory, and the only things that survive are what’s on the TARDIS with him.
One day some time after the War, when he’s got a bit of a death wish and is wandering around the universe, he ends up back on Earth. Those bloody Autons are back (of all the things that have to pop their heads up again it has to be them? Why couldn’t it be one of the nice aliens trying to take over Earth, like…like…he’ll think of one eventually). As he’s tracking their signal he grabs the hand of the girl cornered in the basement by the Autons and drags her to safety.
He offers her the chance to come with him, but she (regretfully? He wonders) says she can’t, says that she’s got to take care of her mum and her boyfriend. But there’s something there that keeps making him want to turn around and go back. Maybe it’s time for him not to be alone anymore. He’s been alone long enough, really, and sometimes he does need someone there.
The Doctor throws the levers, flicks a switch, and heads back to the alley, seconds after he left. Without him knowing it, the TARDIS transfers the bag of stars from a storage room to a drawer in his bedside table. Someday they’ll come in handy, and she always knows better than her designated driver does.
He asks her again, says the magic words, and this time there’s no hesitation. She runs right through the doors of the ship and into the future.
Her name is Rose.
The Doctor didn’t mean to fall in love. He’d loved and lost before, and didn’t really feel like going through all that again. Love never listens though, has a bit of a mind of its own, and his hearts clench at the sight of her, face snatched blank by the Wire on the intergalactic hunt for energy. He knows then that it’s too late, that he’s already fallen. It’ll break him one day, being in love with someone whose life is so transient compared to his. For Rose, though, he’ll deal with it when the time comes, hopefully a long, long way off.
They make love for the first time after that adventure, and he can’t help but cover her precious face in kisses, so very glad to see it back in its proper place. Rose dozes afterwards, curled up against his side. The Doctor finds the bag of stars in the drawer and shakes a few out into his free hand (the other is wrapped around Rose’s back and pressed against her ribcage. This way he can monitor her for any sign of trauma from the day’s experiences, oh yes, have to keep an eye on her and keep her close to make sure she’s just right as rain).
“What are they?” Rose asks blearily, reaching her hand out to touch one of the stars in his palm.
“Just some little trinkets I’ve had since I was a tot. Haven’t seen them in years, really,” he replied, a bit bemused.
“Pretty,” she says, then slumps onto her back, falling back into sleep – she may not have been properly awake to begin with. Her movements jostle the bed a bit and shake loose some of the stars from the pouch, scattering them on the slope of her stomach, rainbow spatters against her pale skin. The Doctor holds his breath and lies down beside her, content to watch her as she slumbers. He leaves the stars where they are, liking the look of them on Rose.
He loses her. He doesn’t break totally though, like he thought he would. He bends, and almost cracks, but he survives. She’d want him to survive, and to keep going. So even when the Master dies in his arms, when Jack leaves, when Martha leaves, when Astrid tries to save him and loses herself in the process, he goes on. First things first though, he should get out of this tux. It really is jinxed.
The pouch of stars is still on the bedside table, unmoved from the last time Rose had taken them out to play with, scatter about and watch as the TARDIS set them aglow in a little light show that was only theirs. Finally he feels he can touch them again, so he tips some out into his hand as he sits on his bed. The Doctor tries not to think of her and focuses of the feel of cool metal on cool skin. He snorts quietly. It’s been so long, he can’t even remember where these came from (he claims he’s 900 years old, but really, there may be just a tiny bit of a fib in there. Really, it’s all a blur after the first millennium anyway). He remembers the market place on Earth, and knows that his father is there, but that’s it…no, that’s not it. There’s something else, something about the woman who had opened her palm and poured the stars into his…
“What?” He sits bolt upright, not quite believing the image that’s running through his head. There’s the cloudiness of many years that shadows the image, yes, but he could swear that the woman’s a dead ringer for…but as far as he knew they’d never been there…and that would just be impossible, wouldn’t it?
He looks over at Rose, older, wiser, stronger Rose, lounging on the jump seat with a contented smile on her face, and knows that for once, things are pretty damn good. The Earth’s been saved once more, his own sorry behind has been saved, and in no small part due to Rose (and saved him from yet another regeneration, which was good, he was rather fond of this face as much as it wasn’t ginger. Was definitely still rude though, and he most likely earned that last slap. Never knew it was possible for three women to slap him at once, but he always had a tendency to pick extraordinary companions), Martha’s safe and back with her family, and Donna was…well, Donna, and currently giving herself a well earned vacation in the Greek Isles.
“So where are we gonna go first?” Rose asks, grin not moving from her face.
He practically dances over to her and grabs her hands, entwining her fingers with his. “We have the entire universe at our feet, Rose Tyler,” he says, “however, we have a job to do. Well, I say we, I mean you actually.”
Her smile turns bemused. “I’m back on the TARDIS for just days and you’ve already got me working.”
“It should be impossible,” the Doctor continues, either not hearing or selectively ignoring her comment, “but since it’s already technically happened that means everything will work out just as it should, no paradoxes in sight, easy-peasy.”
Rose squeezes his hands, making his words trail off and he drags his eyes up to her face. “I think you need to revise your definition of impossible.” He doesn’t respond to that, just lets his own grin get wider and even more manic. Oh yes, he couldn’t agree more.
The Doctor watches from a distance as Rose pours the stars into his younger self’s hand, and the reassuring feeling of timelines clicking into place echoes in the back of his head. He keeps up the appearance of checking out the wares in a stall, eyes always darting over to Rose. She had wanted to change her outfit, try to be more time appropriate, but he insisted she stay in her twenty-first century wear. It was vaguely how he had remembered it, after all.
The job doesn’t take her long at all, and soon she’s moving back towards him. He can feel her come up to his side and he automatically reaches out a hand, which she grasps tightly. “Mission accomplished,” she whispers close to him, and he can feel her warm breath brush against his neck. He nods at her and they walk off, heading back towards the alley where they‘ve stashed the TARDIS.
Outside the doors of the TARDIS he stops them, and takes a few brief moments to stare down at her. They’ve both changed since they’ve been away from each other. He knows now that he doesn’t need her in order to survive, that when that time comes that she has to leave him again, whether it be many, many years in the future or a week from then, he can survive and keep moving without her. But he wants her more than anything, and right now he is exactly where he wants to be. “Thank you,” he says softly, leaning down to brush his lips against hers.
And he knows that Rose knows the words mean so much more than a simple ‘thanks for preventing the universe from imploding because of the ensuing paradox.’ It’s everything he couldn’t say wrapped up in two tiny little words. Rose doesn’t bother with words either, just kisses him back with everything that’s in her heart. When they draw apart slowly, reluctantly, she takes both his hands with hers and pulls him back into the TARDIS. The smile on her face tells him a whole different type of adventure is coming.
Once upon a time, there was a little child who grew up to be a Time Lord called the Doctor. The grown up Time Lord never really forgets the pocket of stars he received from a mystery woman oh so long ago, and it’s only after many years that he realizes just how important they are.